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Health care, hurricane mitigation among priorities for Democratic candidates

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Allen Thomas speaks during a forum held by the Pitt County Democratic Party for the Third Congressional District candidates at Pitt Community College on Monday.


By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Five democratic candidates hoping to represent northeastern North Carolina in Congress discussed how they would tackle issues like the economy, healthcare, the environment, term limits for elected officials and foreign affairs during a forum on Monday night.

The forum, hosted by The Pitt County Democratic Party and held at Pitt Community College’s Walter and Marie Williams building, took place as early voting continued in the April 30 primary election. The primary is being held to determine party nominees for the special election scheduled for later this year to succeed U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, who passed away in February.

WNCT-TV reporter Courtney Allen moderated the event, in which candidates Allen Thomas, Richard Bew, Dana Outlaw, Ernest Reeves and Ike Johnson participated.  A sixth candidate, Gregory Humphries, did not attend.

All five candidates offered support for raising the minimum wage and providing affordable access to health care and opposition to offshore drilling and seismic blasting. They also said they supported reduced term limits for elected officials and getting big money out of politics.  

Differences were clearer when it came to addressing international affairs.   

Johnson said his biggest priority is making sure that Congress had more control over when the United States gets involved in conflicts. 

“We’ve given the president pretty loose hands when it comes to conflicts around the world,” Johnson said. “I believe it should be a congressional team approach.”

Outlaw advocated for a more sensible approach to determining what conflicts the United States would participate in. He specifically criticized the war in Afghanistan. 

“I personally would like to see a lot of guns and armaments turn into plowshares myself,” Outlaw said. “But it’s just not that simple. The longest war in history of America, the Afghanistan war, is a trillion dollars — $3.5 million per soldier — in there. How long can we be the police force for good in the world?”

Ernest Reeves touted his military experience and said that he wanted to work for peace and stability in the Middle East. 

“Stability in the Middle East is very important for not only the United States but for the world,” Reeves said.  

Thomas said that when it comes to managing foreign affairs, the United States must be vigilant to cyber security threats.    

“Those are the real threats that can shut down our entire power grid, and shut down our military,” Thomas said. “I think our real threat is not just physical but it’s also technology. We need to continue to advance to help be prepared and manage that and understand those threats.” 

“There are two things we need to do,” Bew said. “Acknowledge we are in an era of great power competition, where China and Russia want to threaten our ability to protect power around the world and limit ability to influence foreign policy.  The second thing we need to do:  Repeal the 2001 authorization of use of military force.  This was an abjuration of responsibility of Congress.  And it kept Congress from having to be accountable to the American people for sending young men and women into harm’s way.”

Asked what they were most passionate about, the candidates provided more insight into their priorities.

Thomas pointed to hurricane mitigation.

"I still get calls from families that still don't have a home,” Thomas said. “When we faced Hurricane Florence recently, it was just a dark memory back to Hurricane Matthew and to Hurricane Floyd before that. If I could do one thing, it would be to find the person that gets the proper mitigation put in place for the metro areas to stop flooding eastern North Carolina."

Outlaw stressed hurricane mitigation and community building.

“There is a rural divide and I advocated for an alliance of communities coming together to reduce the impacts of hurricanes,” he said. “All of this is for nothing if somebody loses their life.”

Richard Bew listed health care.

"My No. 1 priority will to be to make sure we can get across the aisle in agreement that every American should have access to affordable health care,” he said. “This is an American readiness issue just like it's a readiness issue in the military."

Johnston echoed that thought.

"My biggest priority would be health care for all,” he said. “The Affordable Care Act was a good start and we've seen that dismantled over the past two years. It is imperative that we get a health care system in America that takes care of every American.”

Reeves also pointed to health care, telling a personal story of how he saw how broken the systems of Social Security and Medicare are when he took his uncle and his aunt to medical appointments.

"Social Security and Medicare are so important,” he said. “Those trust funds must be funded because 57 million people use Medicare."

At the end of the forum, each of the candidates agreed to support the Democratic Party nominee and vowed to work alongside Republicans in Congress.